Do I Count?
There are 54 million Americans living with known disabilities. That number may be even higher considering those who do not disclose their disability. In 2012, the US Census Bureau stated that one in five people are living with a disability. Yet so many people do not disclose or leverage outreach efforts for candidates with disabilities when applying for jobs in the private and public sector.
Today, many Fortune 100 corporations are seeking candidates with disabilties to employ, but say they cannot find these candidates to interview or hire. I heard this for years, and I knew it was only an attempt to justify not hiring people with disabilities. I remind companies that they already have people with hidden disabilties working for them; those employees just do not want to self-identify or disclose.
Why do applicants and employees not disclose disabilities? I believe there are three major reasons:
- Lack of Awareness—There are many people in America living with hidden disabilities such as epilepsy, learning disabilities, diabetes, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions. I have met so many people that tell me, “If I know anyone with a disability seeking employment, I will refer them to you. I do not have a disability. I have diabetes.” Diabetes is a disability. Diabetes can impact eating, which is a major life function. Diabetes can also lead to secondary conditions such as blindness and or amputation. Often, if a person has a disability that is not visible, they are not aware that they can join a protected class.
- Not Disabled Enough—People with disabilities often tell our recruitment team at Bender that they are not “disabled enough.” They believe they do not deserve this opportunity as much as someone with a visible disability. People with hidden disabilties say they feel guilty taking a job from someone “more disabled.” There is no such thing as “not disabled enough.” People with hidden disabilities often have the most difficult time gaining employment, because they have trouble getting the appropriate accommodation.
- Shame—Many people do not disclose or self-identify as people with disabilities out of shame or fear. People know that individuals with disabilities may face discrimination in the workplace and have the highest unemployment rate of any minority group. People fear they will be treated differently and not considered for a promotion or leadership roles. These people do not believe it is safe to disclose or self-identify because they do not see others with disabilities working at the company.
In 2013, the Office of Federal Contract and Compliance Programs (OFCCP) issued a Final Rule for Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal contractors to have a 7% utilization goal across all job groups for employees with disabilities. This is a game changer for people with disabilities. Federal contractors represent 22% of the American workforce. This signifies an opportunity for people with disabilities to gain a career, good wages, and other critical benefits that accompany employment. Many people with disabilities do not yet realize they can capitalize on this competitive position to gain employment. If you are a person with a disability seeking employment, start your career search today. It is the first step to achieving the freedom you deserve.